By: Cholla Nicoll, Borderlands Wildlife Preserve Lead Technician
Wintertime in the Sky Islands brings cooler weather and new challenges to the wildlife living in the Borderlands Wildlife Preserve. With some much-needed rain finally falling on the preserve in late January, my mind has been on the importance of water in animals' lives. Luckily for the animals that find themselves traveling through or residing in the preserve, there are several water sources available to them. Three of these water sources are custom-made wildlife drinkers, expertly designed by local engineer Dave Ellis. These drinkers are shallow basins that allow animals to escape if they fall in the water. This shallow depth also leads to the water freezing on a rare occasion.
This frozen water provides a somewhat comical series of pictures of our local wildlife handling this situation in various ways. A bobcat decides to nap on the ice, seemingly not bothered by the cold one bit. A skunk licks the ice while two apprehensive gray foxes wait their turn. Finally, a mule deer buck decides that chewing through the tubing might be a faster option than waiting around for ice to melt. Fixing the drinkers has become a unique engineering game since you can not design something safe and indestructible for all the local wildlife.
Although these wildlife drinkers are not a natural part of the landscape, they provide a source of water in a region where most of the surface water has been depleted by human needs and wants. These drinkers are in off-trail areas providing a safe space for animals to take a drink. As the preserve’s wildlife technician, one of my duties is to maintain these drinkers. Although fixing them can sometimes be a challenge, it allows me an opportunity to provide stewardship to the wildlife in a non-invasive way. The reward is often a chance to share a wildlife trail cam image we can all relate to, the happiness a much-needed drink of water brings to all desert dwellers.
For more information on water usage in the U.S. and Arizona please see this recent U of A study on how ground water depletion effects stream flow. For a summary in local AZ news please see this AZ Central article.
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